Memorial Day Message: “Earn This!”

In the epic World War II film, Saving Private Ryan (1998), Army Captain and Ranger John Miller (Tom Hanks) lies dying on the battlefield from gunshot wounds, as Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) looks on in horror and grief. Miller pulls Ryan close and exhorts him with his dying breaths, saying, “Earn this! Earn it!”

What did Captain Miller mean by saying, “Earn this!”?

Captain Miller meant they sacrificed multiple lives in the effort to find Private Ryan on the deadly battlefield to bring him home to his parents who already lost their other three sons in the war honoring the 1942 “Sole-Surviving Son” policy. He meant Private Ryan needs to honor his fallen comrades with a life well lived and of service to others, which gives meaning and honor to the sacrifice his fellow soldiers made to save him. He needs to “earn” their sacrifice by being a man of virtue who treats others well and knows joy and purpose in his life; something none of the fallen could do because the war cut their promising young lives short.

Decades later, Ryan, along with his wife, children, and grandchildren, visit Captain Miller’s grave at the U.S. cemetery in Normandy, France. As he honors Miller and the sacrifices his soldiers made to save him, he is emotional, recalling Miller’s dying words to him. Ryan tells Miller, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” His wife walks over to the grave and says, “Captain John H. Miller.” Ryan says to her, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” His wife replies, “You are.” Ryan lingers at the grave with reverence and awe. He salutes Captain Miller and his sacrifice, which embodies what Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” (John 15:13). We could modify this, saying, to live selflessly in service to others.

See and hear the Private Ryan—Captain Miller dialog at this link:

The best way we can honor our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, those who gave their last full measure, is to live a good life, be people of virtue, and love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus said in the Great Commandment.

A truly good and purposeful way to love and help others is by engaging with, supporting, and being an active part of a cause or organization that serves others and is greater than ourselves. 

I am personally blessed to have found such a purpose and cause. 

After decades of successful Army service, I was struck with bipolar disorder during the Iraq War in 2003. The intense stress of leading thousands of soldiers in combat triggered my genetic predisposition for the disorder. Although it boosted my performance initially, over the next decade it led to higher highs and lower lows—all unknown, unrecognized, and undiagnosed-ultimately rocketing into full-blown mania followed by hopeless, debilitating depression, and terrifying psychosis. I was fired from my 2-star command of the National Defense University, ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and compelled to retire. I believe that my boss, General Martin Dempsey, made the right decision (for myself, my family, and the organization) and I support what he did. For the next two years, I was in a fight for my life. I was crippled with passive suicidal ideations of my own gruesome, violent, and bloody death, and wanted to die. After two years of medical treatment, the love and support of my wife, family and friends, God’s grace, and the natural element, Lithium, pulled me out of the pit of bipolar hell.

Since then, I rebuilt my previously bipolar-shattered life and discovered my new life mission; “Sharing my bipolar story to help stop the stigma and save lives.” I speak widely, write, and confer on this topic. The response has been totally positive and encouraging. The more I speak, write, and confer, the more people want me to. 

I am blessed to partner with the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), and its community of committed people, as well as other non-profits, businesses, and individuals. These organizations and people are “force multipliers”, who magnify the power and reach of my story and mission. Working together, we do much good for many people who need support and recovery from their bipolar disorder and other mental/brain conditions.

So, on this Memorial Day, as we honor all our fallen heroes from throughout our Nation’s history, let’s seek a purpose that serves others and is greater than self. Let’s figure out how to partner with like-minded organizations and people.

I am grateful and proud to be a 36-year Army combat veteran who served with comrades who gave their lives for our Nation; and to be an active partner and teammate with IBPF, other great non-profits, businesses and individuals, who so actively and intelligently serve our fellow human beings in America and around the globe. I’ve discovered my purpose/mission/cause and am striving to “earn this!” by working hand in hand with others to “help stop the stigma and save lives.”

I challenge each of us to find our Purpose and carry out ways to virtuously “Earn” the sacrifice of our fallen heroes.

Thank you, and may God bless the USA.

Gregg F. Martin, PhD

Major General, US Army (Retired)

Gregg F. Martin, PhD, is a 36-year Army combat veteran, retired two-star general, and bipolar survivor, thriver, and warrior. The former President of the National Defense University, he is a qualified Airborne-Ranger-Engineer and Strategist, who has commanded soldiers in combat. A graduate of West Point, MIT, and both the Army and Naval War Colleges, he is an ardent and full-time mental health advocate. He lives with his wife in Cocoa Beach Florida, where he writes, speaks and confers. His forthcoming book is entitled: “Bipolar General: my ‘forever war’ with mental illness.”  


These views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the DOD or US Government.

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